Will 1030 or 7066 put medicinal marijuana in the ground?

marijuana laws

Growers, investors, and patient advocates are reading Rep. Matt Gaetz’s words on medicinal marijuana as if they were ancient tasseographers reading tea leaves.

They are trying to discern whether medicinal marijuana will become available under SB 1030, approved in 2014, or SPB 7066, which is moving through the Florida Senate.

“What are they doing in Tallahassee? Where are we going with this,” said Kerry Herndon, a Central Florida grower interested in obtaining one of the licenses authorizing the cultivation of medicinal marijuana and the dispensing of cannabis oil.

Herndon likes the current rule for SB 1030, which is sitting in an administrative law court awaiting a hearing.

Two challenges are attempting to block the rule from implementation which would allow the Department of Health to award licenses that will get the medicine to children suffering from epilepsy, as well as neurological and cancer patients.

Herndon is also happy with SPB 7066 as written. He just wants to know which law he needs to look at to determine when and how to apply for a license.

“The only person who knows is Matt Gaetz, right?” Herndon said.

Gaetz has become a pivotal player in determining how and when Florida will allow the sale of a medicinal cannabis product. Frustrated by a series of legal challenges during 1030 rule-making, the Senate is working on SPB 7066, a glitch bill for the Charlotte’s Web law.

The bill addresses some issues that appear to be driving the lawsuits preventing 1030 from going into effect. It is also a self-executing law, bypassing rule-making and going into effect with the governor’s signature.

With a bill moving through the Legislature, stakeholders see an opportunity to make Florida’s medicinal marijuana law more expansive, authorizing more illnesses eligible for cannabis treatments and more plant strains available as a medicine.

Patient advocates want to increase the allowable level of THC from the current .08 percent in the oil. They say doing so makes the drug more effective in treating more illnesses especially the pain associated with cancer and the side effects of traditional medications.

“Right now their options are oxycodone, morphine, and highly addictive drugs,” said Sen. Darren Soto. “This is a decision that should be left between doctors and patients.”

Soto’s amendment failed by two votes in the Rules Committee; he said he would bring it up again. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rob Bradley, noted there are many diverse views in the Senate and he expects a “robust discussion” of the issue when he introduces the proposal to the full Senate.

Last year, Gaetz was the House point man on Charlotte’s Web. This session he was busy cobbling together a $690 million tax cut package while Bradley reworked the law approved last year. Gaetz said Bradley is taking a thoughtful approach to passing “a modernization” of the cannabis law and he looks forward to the House reviewing the proposal and deciding if any changes need to be made before sending it to the governor.

Here’s what Gaetz had to say about the THC question.

“I think that THC-based cannabis can help a lot of people but THC-based cannabis in the wrong hands can also hurt people. It’s my preference to take a spin around the block with the training wheels on a couple times first before we go to a THC-based cannabis model but I don’t want to prejudge the Florida Senate model before we receive it,” Gaetz said.

Here’s how grower Herndon read those words.

“Sounds like to me they are going to implement 1030 and they’re going to pass a THC bill next session in January and February. They will have it canned and ready to go,” Herndon said. “But that’s just my guess and I guess my guess is as good as anyone else’s.”

The scenario is possible. The two challenges to the rule are scheduled for an April 23 hearing. They face a tough road to victory. Judge W. David Watkins is presiding over the case. He invalidated DOH’s first set of regulations and the consensus among stakeholders is that the revised rule addresses the concerns raised by Watkins when he threw out the first set of rules.

DOH has complained to Watkins it is having difficulties getting information from the challengers.

Although it is never safe to predict what will happen in court, let me suggest that the challenges may be resolved before lawmakers adjourn the 2015 Session on May 1.

If DOH prevails, then 1030 goes into effect. If the challengers win, then 7066 may be ready depending on how the House reacts to whatever happens to it on the Senate floor.

Herndon specializes in growing bromeliads and orchids, but he wants to grow medicinal marijuana.

“Orchids are beautiful. I love them but helping sick kids, I don’t think there is a much higher calling than that,” said Herndon. “Something needs to happen. It’s been a year.”

What the something is and whether it means Herndon will be growing marijuana this fall we may know within the next three weeks.

James Call


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